It can be a challenge to integrate networking activities into a full dance card, especially if you are already struggling to balance your career and family. The secret here is to first make networking a priority, then create a plan, and finally, make it a habit.
Adjust your mindset to include networking as a required part of your job, short-term and long-term. Put it on your to-do list and on your schedule! Now relax. Networking does not have to take an inordinate amount of time.
The key is to be realistic about your resources — time, money & energy. Most of us have limitations on all three, so you need to keep these limitations in mind when developing your networking plan and determining your priorities.
Here is a basic plan that will work within even the tightest schedule:
- Choose the one organization that is most relevant to your career or industry and be an active member. Most organizations only have one meeting per month, so commit to attend regularly. If you can add a second organization which will expose you to a broader group of professionals, that will be even better.
- Hold meetings – coffee or lunch are fine – at least twice a month with important contacts. Review your contacts regularly to make sure you’re not overlooking people you haven’t seen in a while. You don’t have to have a specific agenda beyond building or maintaining your relationship.
- Identify the two or three key annual events in your community or industry, and commit to attend each year. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a black-tie dinner or a two-day software conference; figure out which events are critical and put them on your schedule.
- Contact two people in your network each week by e-mail, phone, social media or hand-written notes. You don’t have to be face-to-face to keep relationships intact.
It is better to fully commit to a limited number of networking opportunities than to sporadically participate in many.
Some people find it helpful to actually schedule networking time on the calendar — thirty minutes or an hour of dedicated time each week when they catch-up on social media, schedule networking meetings, check on organizations and events, and do reach-outs to their network.
While making a commitment to networking may seem daunting, it really is quite manageable once it becomes a habit. The key is to connect with people you don’t already see or talk to on a regular basis; grabbing coffee with a co-worker or calling a client is important, but it doesn’t constitute networking.